Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Scarlett Thread

Tonite's read was another Francine Rivers' novel, The Scarlet Thread which is about two women in the same family, several generations removed. The modern day one is reading the journal of the one from the 1800's. The book begins with the modern day woman's life undergoing huge change and it ends with her seeing the hand of God in all the pain she underwent during the course of the book. My only beef with the book is that the main character's husband is Catholic (nominally so only in most of the book) and she is Protestant (only nominally so during most of the book) and of course it is a church that helps her get her life back together. When she and her husband talk after that point she make a point of saying she doesn't want a priest to get between her kids and Jesus. Also her husband mentions that he has been to confession, but it isn't until later that he accepts that he is forgiven....Basically it was a good book. I will say one difference between Francine Rivers and many other Christian fiction writers is that her characters do end up in bed together, and their kissing isn't always chaste--but this isn't a bodice buster romance. If you want it, email me, we'll see what we can work out. OTherwise, next time I add a batch to bookmooch I'll put it there.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Books

I tried to up the level of my reading during Lent--read some of the stuff I've been putting off or thought I should read rather than the easy stuff I tend to pick up at the end of the day. One book I read was Henri Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal Son. It is basically a book-length meditation on Rembrant's painting of the same name and the parable. I enjoyed it.
During Holy Week I read Max Lucado's The Final Week of Jesus which takes us through Christ's last week via scriptures and then adds reflections on daily modern life. Easy read, a lot to ponder. I recommend it. I also finally finished (I've been reading it on and off) Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum. It wasn't a bad book, I just have a hard time putting my son in the categories they have, and I really don't feel I got a lot of concrete advice about how to handle the problems we are having now.

Then Lent was over. I had a few Harliquin romances I'd picked up cheap on bookmooch and blew through them. I have them on my Bookmooch list now if you want them. They were exactly what you'd expect. I have really enjoyed Francine River's novels lately. I did a little research on her and found that she used to write mainstream romance novels until she underwent a religous conversion. Since that time she has taken her mainstream books out of print and has written Christian novels. I managed to mooch one of her pre-Christian novels, and for the genre, it was good. This Golden Valley is set mainly in California during the gold rush. Unlike many romance novels, this isn't just about two characters, but rather has several who make more than cameo appearances. The story isn't just about them falling in love and hate and love. As noted on the Amazon review, the ending was a bit contrived, but for a romance novel, this was a bit more complex than most (not that "most" is a hard standard). I read Janette Oke's A Gown of Spanish Lace which was bascially a Christian Harliquin romance--about that long, boy meet girl, they have a conflict, they get together--but only after he finds God.

I've posted several times that I' d like to find fluffy Catholic fiction--something similar to the Janette Oke book I just disparaged above, but from a Catholic perspective. I found one. Grace Will Lead Me Home is about the residents of a small New England town. One of the main characters is a priest and several others are parishiners. The book includes prayers. I found the book a little "busy"--too many characters with too little depth, but it was nice reading about them going to mass rather than to some independent church.

I'm going to hang on to the autism book for a while, but I'm off to put the rest on Bookmooch.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

With Whom Do You Indentify?

I've been taught that one way to pray with scripture is to imagine the scene, stand back and watch it, and then pick a character with whom you most closely indentify and ponder why you do so. When I do that with the Passion, I keep coming back to Pontius Pilate. Why? He's not such a bad guy. He didn't REALLY want to crucify Christ, he just wanted to keep people happy, to keep the peace. He tried scourging Jesus in hopes that it would be enough, but it wasn't. He tried to get others to agree to set him loose, but they wanted Barrabas instead. He tried washing his hands of the whole affair, but as we all know, we DO have to take responsibility for our actions. I don't like conflict, I want to make those around me happy and when I look at what I consider some of my more serious sins over my lifetime they haven't been things where I have said "I really want to _____. I know it is wrong to ____ but I really want to do it, and I don't care what God or the Church says.". Rather they have been things where I've said "I know ____ is generally considered wrong, but _____ wants me to _______, and if I don't, then there is going to be conflict". or "If I ______ then I'll fit in better with "the gang"; if I don't then I'll look like an unrealistic goody two-shoes.". Yep, Pilate is the one to whom I relate.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How is your geography?

What's the Difference

Between letting your child be responsible for himself and being lazy? I'm struggling with that right now. The semester my son was placed on the "basic" track at school which means that his classes have seemed easier than what he has had before. His grades improved and he was doing most of his homework with little to no help/supervision. Also, a few weeks ago, we were invited to leave the school at the end of the year. Definitely as a result of the improved performance, and maybe as a result of being asked to leave, I've backed off on my role as homework supervisor. Until now I've had a major financial interest in seeing that he passed all his classes. Since he is going to public school next year, that interest is gone. I've kept an eye on his grades and while he hasn' t been perfect about handing in homework, I wouldn't say he has been significantly worse than he was when I was cracking the whip all the time. However in the last few weeks his grades have declined, and now, on the eve of exams, I'm seeing more missing work and lower grades, to the point that he is going into exams with an "F" in two of his four subjects (in one of which he had a "B" a few weeks ago). I really think he needs to learn to be responsible for his own work. His homework is HIS, not mine. However, I don't want him to fail--but on the other hand, why not? He needs to learn that actions (and inactions) have consequences. If he goes over to the public school as a sophomore rather than a junior, no one will know but him that he was held back. It is another year that he can stay on my health insurance (and when you have a kid taking $500+ in meds every month, that's important). We haven't told him yet that he is not going to summer school for the class he failed last nine weeks (and don't plan to tell him until school is over) so maybe he'll see that as something to avoid. On the other hand it isn't working...but it sure is easier and more fun for me to not do homework with him every night. I've taken the little one to the playground, read with her, read my general, done something other than homework at night for the last few weeks and I've loved it. Am I just being lazy or am I trying to give him a skill he really does need to learn?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blogging about Books

I've been reading some lately, just not as much, and I've been stacking them up rather than adding them to my Bookmooch list because I haven't had time to get to the post office and experience has shown that books are usually mooched quickly or sit for a long time (indefinitely?). Anyway, these books will go on my list as soon as I finish writing about them so mooch away...

Debbie Macomber's Home for the Holidays is just two basic Harlequin Romance novels in one book. I've already forgotten the characters names, and just about everything else, but they are set at Christmas and believe it or not, they have happy endings. Pure mind candy.

Midnight Clear is three basic romance novels or "novellas" in one book. Again, mind candy, couldn't tell you anything about any of them; enjoyable to read if in the mood but totally forgetable.

Thursdays at Eight by Debbie Macomber is one you'd like if you like her yarn shop books. It is about four friends who met in a journaling class and who continued to meet every Thursday at 8 a.m. It takes them through a year in their life. The four are a 50+ widow/hospital executive who is being romantically pursued by a doctor; a 20 something aspiring actress, a 40 year old who just discovered she is pregnant (her other two kids are teens) and a 40ish divorcee who finally makes peace with the husband who left her for a 20 year old. Each chapter begins with an entry from one of the women's journal and then, in a different typeface, tells what happens next in life. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it.

Haywood Smith's The Red Hat Club was about a group of women who had been friends since high school. They meet monthly at some society place in Atlanta. This is the year they turn 50. The book is set in 2002 but flashes back to their high school days. By this time, most of the women are not in happy marriages. The book ends celebrating the divorce of one of them from a man who beat her once (but no more, because she stood up to him) and who cheated on her regularly. However, I have to say that my favorite character was one who, when given the chance to re-unite with her high school flame, realized that even though fireworks didn't go off every time she saw her husband, he was a good man, a good father, loyal, honest etc. and that she'd be better off working on the marriage she had than seeking excitement elsewhere.

An Ideal Marriage is another compilation of Harlequin Romances. What can I say? They are by Debbie Macomber.

The Pot Luck Club by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson is kind of a Christian version of Thursdays at Eight and The Red Hat Club. It centers around a group of women in a small Colorado town. They are the Potluck Club. They go to the same church and meet monthly to pray (and gossip). The book includes recipies for the food they bring, and has them supporting each other in the changes life brings.

Francine Rivers is one of the best Christain Fiction authors I've read. Unashamed is her book about Rahab, a Cannonite harlot who live in Jerico when "the walls came tumbling down". She was also a foremother of Jesus. Anway this novella is short, and basically fills out the Bible story. I enjoyed it though it wasn't the enagaging read her longer novels have been.

Another Homecoming by Janette Oke and T. Davis Bunn is about a wealthy young woman who adored her father and clashed with her mother. Upon her father's death she discovers she was adopted. She searchs for and finds her birth family. Let's just say the end was never really in doubt, but it was an easy feel-good read.

Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid is a Catholic Apologetics book focusing on the Pope. It had a few things I didn't know--a few myths I'd never heard and a few explainations I'd never heard, but I guess I've been reading this stuff long enough that I've heard most of it. If you want to learn the whys about the Pope, this is a good book.

Where is That in the Bible is another Patrick Madrid book. The main sections of the book are Authority, Doctrines, the Sacraments, Customs and Practices, Moral Issues and Non-Catholic beliefs. He gives scriptural authority for many teachings, but unless he's preaching to the choir, I think a lot of his arguments are going to fall on deaf ears. What I mean is that the scripture he quotes lends support to his argument, but I don't think that those who aren't already convinced of the truth of many of his assertions are going to be convinced by the scripture he quotes--its just too open to interpretation--which of course is one Catholic argument against the Bible as the sole source of religous truth.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Catholic Schools

What should be the purpose of a Catholic school? Should it be to maintain high academic and behavioral standards so as to be able to achieve a high college graduation rate among alumni? Should it be to provide a place where students of normal and above normal intelligence and income can be prepared for college un-influenced by those of the lower income groups, by those who don't value education, special needs kids or by those who are not able to handle a college-preparatory curriculum? Unfortunately, especially on the high school level, I do think, that for all the fancy mission statements about Christ-centered values, those are the purposes.

To get into a Catholic high school in this area, students submit an application and undergo an interview. At the time of application, students are required to pick one school--they are not allowed to apply to multiple schools. The schools then decide whether to accept or reject each applicant. The more popular schools are able to be more selective, and tend to, all things being equal, accept students with higher grades/test scores. They are considered the "good" schools and because they are "good" they tend to garner more applicants than schools that aren't considered to be as "good." Students who are rejected by their first place schools may choose to have their packets sent to schools that still have slots to fill after the initial round of applications.

We were looking for a Catholic school for my son two years ago. We applied to a school in the city that, while it offered honors and college preparatory tracks, also offered special education services. We thought it would be a better fit for him than a school for special needs kids because while he has social issues, his academic performance had been on level, while what we generally heard from parents was that the academics at the school for special needs kids were not on grade level. He was accepted there and is nearing the end of his sophomore year. He will not be back next year. While we were considering moving him for academic reasons, the school gave us the "we aren't meeting his needs" speech last week and were told that this would give us time to find a more appropriate place for him next year. They suggested we try the school for special needs kids and said that "as we have been phasing out, they have been phasing in". Based on the "phasing out" comment, information provided by my son's psychologist and the request to remove him from public view, it is my opinion that the school is trying to move away from being the school for kids with special needs and towards being able to be more selective. I guess I shouldn't be surprised as I was told at open house three years ago by the special ed representative "you notice they have me off to the side and back here" and "we take these kids because we have to".

There are several problems with moving him to the special needs school. First, the precipitating event last week was behavioral. Without getting into details, he engaged in an unacceptable behavior; and while it was something he knew was against the rules he didn't realize HOW against the rules it was or why. He was absolutely flabbergasted with the school's and our reaction (we were told to come pick him up). While I think this was the precipitating event, they haven't been happy with him for some time. We were told a couple of months ago that he couldn't wait for us in the school lobby after study hall (after school care) was over, like the other kids who haven't been picked up do "because guest of the school are coming through there". That demand came shortly after the start of interview season. Since the special ed school's website indicates that they are not for kids with primarily behavioral or emotional issues, and since I've not heard good things from parents of other autistic kids, I'm leery.
I sort of kick myself for applying to his current school after comments like I heard at that open house, but it was a school the archdiocese recommend. I'll take the special school at its word.

As I noted earlier, we were considering leaving even before we were invited to do so. They initially placed my son on the college prep track based on his test scores and elementary school grades. We've never worked so hard for D's. The curriculum is heavy on writing, which is a weakness. The math classes have become more abstract. He is putting more work into school than ever before and getting poorer grades. Homework was consuming our family life and it seemed obvious that college was not in his future; however the curriculum offered by the school is straight college prep. While they offer "basic" classes to kids with educational evaluations who are not able to handle the college prep track, they are just simpler versions of the same subjects taught in smaller classes. In other words, my son, who struggled to pass algebra I still had algebra II, pre-calculus, chemistry and physics on the horizon. Also, despite the fact that school runs a block schedule that should allow for more elective classes, I saw nothing offered that could remotely be called vocational in nature. In short, I saw two more years of struggle for poor grades only to end up with a kid who not only was not college material but who also had no saleable skills--and this from the school that seemed most open to kids of all academic abilities.

Is this what Catholic education is supposed to be about? Is it only to educate the college-bound--or maybe special needs kids but at schools away from the "normal" ones? The archdiocese touts the high college attendance rate among graduates of their "regular" high schools, but they don't mention how many kids drop out, are kicked out or are counselled out. College is a wonderful thing, but are kids who aren't college material less Catholic?

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